Rethinking Disability Simulations - Part I

I recently read an important article by Emily Ladau. (You remember Emily, right? She was my first guest blogger and wrote The Birthright Israel Foundation: “No Limits” on the Jewish Disability Community).

Emily’s article called “I Won’t Pretend That Disability Simulation Works” struck a nerve; but I didn't really want to confront it. You see, I have led disability simulations and have believed them to be effective, so this article put me in the position of needing to reflect and potentially rethink my practice.   

That’s a good thing! I have written often about the importance of reflection in improving our inclusive practice. It would be hypocritical if this didn’t apply to me, too.

Emily writes, “Herein lies the problem with disability simulation. It may make a person more aware of another person’s experiences, but it doesn’t dig deep to the root of discrimination against people with minority identities. Instead, it’s more likely to evoke empathy or pity than true acceptance.” 
I have written a lesson for teens that engages them in multiple, short simulation activities followed by discussions of the experience grounded in Jewish text. We have run this program for the past few years, and each time it has led to insightful conversations and an opportunity for one or more of our teens with disabilities to share their own experiences. I believe it to be a powerful and significant learning experience for our students.

But Emily’s post has me wondering what long-term impact such a program has, if any. She argues, “You can be “aware” of me all you want. You can attempt to roll a mile in my wheelchair. You can analyze and discuss and dissect the experience from a million different angles. But we must move away from equating empathy with acceptance. We must embrace differences as a fact of human existence without first needing to imitate them, for these kinds of activities are not effectively contributing to long-term advancements in the disability rights movement.”


Rethinking Disability Simulations Part 2

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